Italy arm in arm with Azerbaijan

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

During the recent Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which lasted from 27 September to 10 November 2020, the armed forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan made extensive use of an impressive range of weapons which, together with other circumstances, allowed the Azeris to prevail on the battlefield against their Armenian enemies. Although there are not many who habitually follow the Caucasian events, starting from 1994, the year of the end of the catastrophic First Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Caspian state has allocated increasingly important figures to its defense budget, precisely to achieve that superiority. which, in the plans of Azerbaijani political and military decision makers, should have resulted in a "revenge" on the battlefield.

By way of example, it will suffice to remember that, despite being heavily scourged by the Covid-19 epidemic, in all of 2020 Azerbaijan spent the beauty of 2 billion and 267 million dollars on its armed forces, equal to 5%. of the country's GDP for that year. However, this should not come as a surprise given that, during the early XNUMXs, when the Azerbaijani economy was experiencing a phase of considerable expansion thanks to the boom in oil prices, Azerbaijan allocated to Defense figures equivalent to the entire GDP of rival Armenia.

Although, in the aftermath of the country's independence, Baku's armed forces were equipped with a panoply of weapons of Soviet origin, the regime of Heydar Alirza oğlu Aliyev first and that of his son Ilham Heydar oğlu Aliyev later proved to be very confident in seizing the opportunities that the oil riches of their potentate presented to them, so much so that, nowadays, Azerbaijan can boast of receiving military supplies of different magnitude and value from at least twenty-two different countries. Although when one speaks more specifically of the Baku "shipowners" the "golden quintet" formed by Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey and Israel comes to mind, in recent years Italy has also gained the attention of "Satraps" of the coast of the Caspian Sea.

Before proceeding further, it is now necessary to make a brief excursus on the relations existing between the Italian Republic on the one hand, and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the other, given that the recent announcements relating to the purchase of Italian weapons by Azerbaijan are only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger "relationship".

Although the relationship between the "Boot" and "Tierra del Fuego" is of very ancient date (just think of the discovery, in the Gobustan National Park, located 69 kilometers south of Baku, of an inscription dating back to the period of the of Emperor Titus Flavius ​​Domitian left there by the XII Fulminata Legion), they began to have a certain importance only from the 90s of the XX century.

The Republic of Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August 30, 1991 during the political chaos following the coup against the then Soviet leader Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Despite the substantial process of achieving independence by 18 October of the same year, it was only on 25 December that, with the formal dissolution of the USSR, Azerbaijan became a full member of the international forum.

The Italian Republic recognized Azerbaijan on January 1, 1992 and May 8 of the same year, the two countries had established full diplomatic relations, although the Italian embassy in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani embassy in Italy were opened respectively in 1997 and 2003.

The fact that Azerbaijan was the first of the Southern Caucasus states to create a privileged relationship with Italy has greatly benefited Baku in the long run. In fact, in the early 90s the economic situation of the “Tierra del Fuego” was disastrous to say the least. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communism, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself also put an end to the single market in which Soviet Azerbaijan had been integrated for seventy years. The drop in oil prices following the conclusion of the Gulf War, the expulsion of the large Armenian community (which had historically always represented the most economically and culturally active segment of society) and the flight of most members of other communities alien minorities (such as the Russians), the disaster of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War and the related internal political instability (in the first 2 years of independent life Azerbaijan changed 5 presidents!) had the effect of almost completely knock out the economy and society.

In 1996, when the process of economic decline was finally stopped, the total value of Baku's GDP was around $ 19,95 billion at purchasing power parity, roughly equivalent to 42,7% of the value of GDP. Soviet Azerbaijan in 1991, the last year the country belonged to the USSR (remember however that, in 1991, the year of the breakup of the USSR, the Soviet economy had already plunged into a very serious economic crisis that had lasted for at least 3 years, therefore we must not at all think that the data relating to economic performance for that year represented the maximum economic power of the USSR and its constituent republics).

The fate of the country began to change after the return to power, as president of independent Azerbaijan, of the old "deus ex-machina" of Azerbaijani internal politics in the Soviet period, Heydar Aliyev who, once the First War of Nagorno-Karabakh wasted no time in rebuilding Baku's political and economic power starting from the most important resource available to the Caspian state: oil. These were the years that saw an exponential growth in the activities of SOCAR (State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan - Azərbaycan Respublikası Dövlət Neft Şirkəti), the creation of SOFAZ (State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan) and, above all, the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, the very first oil pipeline that would have had to export large quantities of oil to western markets using an infrastructure that did not belong to the pre-existing system of energy pipelines inherited from the old Soviet Union and used from Russia as an instrument for exercising important levers of power vis-à-vis the other ex-Soviet republics.

When the BTC pipeline was finally inaugurated in 2006, Heyday Aliyev had been dead for 3 years, but his son Ilham inherited not only the chair of the presidency of the republic but also what had already been renamed "the most strategic pipeline in the world". Never this definition was more appropriate than this one given that, from that moment on, the BTC pipeline has played a central role in most of the geopolitical plots not only in the Caucasus but also more generally in the ex-Soviet area and in the " Great Enlarged Middle East ”. And Italy has thrown itself headlong into this game because, among the 12 large partner companies of the BTC project, there is precisely our Eni SpA, together with the aforementioned SOCAR, but also British Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, Equinor ASA (ex-Statoil), GIOC, Türkiye Petrolleri Anonim Ortaklığı, Total SE, Itochu Corporation, INPEX Corporation, ConocoPhillips and Hess Corporation. In fact, oil was the main engine of Italian-Azerbaijani relations and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Although at least in the last twenty years the Baku authorities have literally waved their arms in an attempt to promote political, social, economic and cultural relations between the two countries, the reality of the facts is much more caustic. From a statistical point of view, Italy represents the single main trading partner of Azerbaijan, absorbing 30,1% of Baku's exports. However, from a qualitative point of view, the most prosaic reality is that this export is made up almost exclusively of hydrocarbons, which represent approximately 10,6% of the Italian requirement on an annual basis; a not insignificant figure, but absolutely replaceable and not at all "vital", as a certain press in the odor of opaque interests tries to underline. The same ones that revolve around the highly effective lobby that Mammad Ahmadzada, ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Italy since 2016 has patiently organized over the years, building on success, given that Baku has always been very careful to send some to Rome of his best men. In fact, Ahmadzada's predecessor, Vaqif Sadiqov, ambassador to Italy between 2010 and 2015, is today the representative of Azerbaijan at the United Nations offices in Geneva.

Emil Karimov, who was ambassador to Rome between 2005 and 2010, then became the Azerbaijani diplomatic representative in Bulgaria, another European country in which Azerbaijani (and Turkish) interests have grown significantly in the last decade. Finally, the one who was the first ever ambassador of Baku headquartered in the "Boot" between 2003 and 2004, Elmar Mammadyarov (photo), then became the powerful Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Caspian state between 2004 and 2020, before being politically liquidated mercilessly by Ilham Aliyev in situations never fully clarified in July 2020, just as Azerbaijan was preparing, with the help of Turkey and Pakistan, to reignite the war for Nagorno-Karabakh in a big way.

Having therefore understood the strategic importance that Italian-Azerbaijani relations have for Baku, we must now ask ourselves whether this is also counterbalanced in Rome. In this case, the answer must be cutting: no.

To begin with, despite as already mentioned, Baku supplies 10,6% of Italy's annual energy needs, and this corresponds to as much as 30,1% of Azerbaijani exports, Azerbaijan it absolutely does not appear among Italy's top trading partners neither on the export side nor on the import side, where the countries that are really important for the commercial stability of our state are Germany, France, the United States, China, the Netherlands, Spain, the United United, Switzerland and Belgium.

Despite its "energy power", Baku does not figure among the 10 main economic partners of the "Boot". Not only; Azerbaijani hydrocarbon supplies are more than counterbalanced in the basket of energy resources administered by Eni thanks to the relationships that the state giant has managed to weave over the years with other important players in the fossil fuel market such as: Russia, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and many others. Another element that should not be underestimated is the fact that Azerbaijani oil arrives in Italy through the "logistical infrastructures" of Turkey, a country that unquestionably represents the main strategic partner of the Caspian satraps and which therefore has more than a spectacular lever of geopolitical blackmail against of Italy. Truly an irony of history, if we think that the main reason that led Italy to get tangled up in the Caucasus was precisely the mirage of diversifying its oil supplies, at that time too biased in favor of Russia (the eternal enemy of NATO, according to the United States of America, and therefore to be resized at all costs), with the result of transferring the levers of energy power from Moscow to Ankara, just at the moment in which Turkey has embarked on the road that will inevitably lead to confrontation final with the West, and with Italy in particular.

Finally, there are some military supplies. Struggling with the urgent need to renew and potential its air forces and in particular to permanently get rid of its Aero L-39 Albatross and Aero L-29 Dolphin (the latter seems to have been on land for several years - photo) of Czechoslovakian production inherited from the Soviet period, Azerbaijan signed, in February 2020, a Letter of Intent for the supply of Alenia Aermacchi M-346 aircraft Master training (Azerbaijani media speak of 12 aircraft with the option for an additional 12 belonging to the ground-attack FA version).

This operation could be a success for our aeronautical industry, reinforced by the fact that, subsequently, also the neighboring Turkmenistan would have decided to order 6 specimens of the Master.

Considering the re-explosion of the conflict in a 5-year period as inevitable, once the mission of peacekeeping Russia will be concluded, a country like Italy could cultivate from now these last results for a “positive soft power” (as much vaunted as useless and belated in other crisis areas)?

Photo: Twitter / web